In the census: Neighbors & Family

I rely on census records to tell me a lot about my ancestors, and to see a snapshot of their households in particular points in time. I also try to browse their neighbors to see who they lived near, who they could have known, and who they may have done business with. I’ve found some valuable information and a few remarkable coincidences this way!

I recently uncovered one of these amazing coincidences while doing some research for my first cousin’s side of the family. While looking at some state census records, I happened to find two of our ancestors living just houses away from each other! Because most of my roots run deep in DeKalb County, IL, this would not be extremely surprising if this occurred in DeKalb County. However, these two families lived in a rural township in Fillmore County, Minnesota at the same exact time!

(Click on the images to view larger.)

Moses Ousley and his second wife, Maria, are listed at the very end of this page of the 1875 Minnesota State Census for Sumner Township, Fillmore County. (Image source: Minnesota, Territorial and State Censuses, 1849-1905 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.)
On the next page, Moses Ousley’s children Elizabeth, David, Alva, Mathilda, and Minnie are listed on the same page as Lucy Fish and her children, Cyrus and Rebecca. This is a page of the 1875 Minnesota State Census for Sumner Township, Fillmore County. (Image source: Minnesota, Territorial and State Censuses, 1849-1905 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.)
In 1875, my 4th great-grandmother Lucy (Caul) Fish was living with her daughter and son-in-law in Sumner, Fillmore County, Minnesota. My cousins’ 4th great-grandfather, Moses Ousley, was listed just five houses away! Several of Moses’ children, including my cousin’s 3rd great-grandmother, were living in the same township. They were all farmers. The two families never intermarried, but they would have certainly known each other and may have socialized together. About 100 years later in DeKalb County, Moses’ 3rd great-grandson would marry my aunt, who was Lucy (Caul) Fish’s 3rd great-granddaughter!

I know a little bit about the Fish family, and how they ended up in Sumner, Minnesota. My 4th great-grandmother, Lucy (Caul) Fish was a pioneer woman as a young woman. She was born in New York in 1803, and grew up in New York or Ohio. She married my 4th great-grandfather, Lathrop G. Fish, in Ohio in 1824. They had four children in Ohio, and then moved to Michigan in about 1836-1837. The family prospered in Michigan, adding two more children, and purchased pieces of land to grow their farm every few years. Lathrop was elected Overseer of the Highways in 1842 and Director of the Poor in 1843. In about 1845, they decided to continue moving west, and moved their family to Kane County, Illinois, and then to DeKalb County, Illinois. They had one more daughter in Kane County, and their farm prospered. Tragedy struck in 1866 when Lathrop died of an unnamed sickness. Lucy never remarried, and lived in the households of several of her children until her death in 1878. Her daughter, Rebecca, married John Lillie in about 1860. His family was from Canada, and they moved to Fillmore County by 1857. The Lillie family was one of the earliest settlers in the township, arriving within the first five years of its settlement. Rebecca also moved to Sumner Township, Fillmore County when she married John Lillie. In 1875, her mother Lucy Fish and her brother Cyrus Fish happened to be living with them on their farm. Lucy likely died at their home in 1878. Some of her other children and their descendants remained in DeKalb County for generations.

Like the Fish family, Moses Ousley also originated from back east, and moved his family west as a young man. He was born in Clinton County, Ohio in 1819, and married Nancy Ann Moon in 1845. They lived for several years in Clinton County, then moved to Indiana soon after Nancy died in 1853. He married Maria Ballinger in 1854 in Miami County, Indiana. By 1865, they had moved the family, which now had seven children, to Minnesota. They settled first in Houston County, then in Fillmore County, where they were living in 1875. His daughter, Mary Emily Ousley, married William Davidson in 1867. William was also a farmer in Sumner in 1875, listed on the next page in the census. The Ousley/Davidson families continued to disperse through the generations. Some continued to move west, and some settled in Wisconsin. Their descendants didn’t live in DeKalb County until about 1945.

The two families wouldn’t cross paths again until 1967! What a lucky find, which was found by simply checking out the neighbors on the census records!

Census record of William and Mary E. (Ousley) Davidson
Moses Ousley’s daughter Mary Emily married William Davidson. They lived in the same township as her family, and the Lucy Fish family. (Image source: Minnesota, Territorial and State Censuses, 1849-1905 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.)
Lesson learned: Looking for your ancestors in the census? Don’t forget to look at their neighbors!


  • “History of Sumner Township, Fillmore County, Minnesota.” Ray’s Place, Accessed 30 Jan 2018.
  • “1875 Minnesota State Census, Fillmore County, Sumner Township.” Minnesota, Territorial and State Censuses, 1849-1905 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.

Favorite photo: Nana and Papa at the fair

One of my favorite photos from my family history is actually a set of photos. My grandparents, Ed Drake and Millie Kaiser, were out on the town and visited a photo booth. This set of tiny photos are the photos that were taken there! When I asked my grandmother about them, she said they must have been taken when a fair came to town. They both look so happy, and you can see some of the mischief in my grandfather’s face. He could always make us laugh. I remember both of them that way. I love these photos because although I knew them later in life, I can see that they had the same spirit when they were younger, too.


Two of the photos were placed into tiny frames, and the other three were in my grandmother’s military photo album. I think these were taken about the same time that Millie joined the Navy WAVES, about 1944. I’m guessing that Ed kept the two framed snapshots with him while Millie was away. Millie kept the other three with her while she was in Florida. They would be married about two years later.

What are some of your favorite old family photos?


  • Interview with Mildred (Kaiser) Drake, conducted by Eva Weil, 2015.
  • M. Kaiser WAVES scrapbook, Drake-Kaiser family photos, 1944-1946.
  • Drake-Kaiser family photos, private collection, ca. 1900-2010.

Solar eclipses in my ancestors’ time

Today, August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will roll across North America. For many, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In Illinois, some people remember the partial eclipse experienced here in 1970 and 1979, but the last time Illinois residents experienced a full total solar eclipse was in 1869. This eclipse was the only time in the history of the state (established in 1818) that a total eclipse had ever been observed! As this Daily Herald article discusses, Illinoisans were building the State Capital building at the time, and attempted to commemorate the occasion with a monument at the capital. Since solar eclipses are such relatively rare occurrences, I wondered, which of my ancestors experienced a solar eclipse during their lifetimes?

The path of the Aug. 21, 2017 Solar Eclipse. Image Source: NASA

It turns out, some of my ancestors would have been able to see a complete solar eclipse from their homes, and even a few more who would have seen a partial solar eclipse sometime in their lives. Unfortunately, none of my ancestors recorded their solar eclipse experiences, but I can imagine what they would have seen and done.

7 March 1970: 

My mother remembers this partial eclipse from her home in Northern Illinois. In her area, the sun was about 70% covered by the moon. She remembers standing on her back porch, watching the eclipse with her homemade cardboard box eclipse viewer. Local newspaper reports indicate that clouds and rain were threatening to block out the view, but apparently my mom attempted to see it anyway!

Headline from the Sycamore True Republican, 24 January 1925. Image Source: Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections

24 January 1925:

A 95% total eclipse would have been observed in DeKalb County, Illinois, but it was apparently overcast that morning, and the eclipse was not entirely visible. Six of my great-grandparents lived with their families in DeKalb County or Chicago, and would have missed out on this eclipse because of weather. Perhaps they paused their daily lives to try to peek out at the partial eclipse through the clouds.

An illustration showing how the eclipse would darken New York City. Kingston, New York is just north of NYC. Image Source: USC Digital Library

My paternal great-grandparents would have had a much better view of this eclipse. George and Pauline Weil lived in Kingston, New York at the time and would have been able to view the total eclipse. George worked as a teacher at Emmanuel Lutheran School. He and Pauline had four young boys at home. George may have used the solar eclipse as a teaching opportunity and taken his oldest boys, ages 7 and 5, outside in the frigid cold to view the eclipse. According to the evening issue of The Kingston Daily Freeman from that day, the weather was brutally cold but the sky was wonderfully clear to watch the eclipse. Daily business came to a standstill during the moments when the moon was completely covering the sun. (Read the full fascinating account here on I imagine that George and his family would have also viewed this moment with wonder.

Pauline (nee Gardner) Weil and one of her children outside on a chilly day. Taken about 1925 or after. Image Source: Weil family photo
Headline about the eclipse in the Kingston Daily Freeman, Saturday January 24, 1925. Image Source:

Excerpt of an article in the Sycamore True Republican Newspaper, 1 June 1918. Image Source: Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection

8 June 1918: 

During this eclipse, the moon covered about 70% of the sun in Northern Illinois. Unlike the 1925 eclipse, the weather that day was clear, and the eclipse was clearly visible. My Illinois ancestors who didn’t get to see the eclipse in 1925 likely caught a glimpse of this partial solar eclipse. My great-grandparents, Charles and Emma Drake, may have simply been working on the farm that morning as usual and paused to look up at the sky. Emma would have been 8 months pregnant with her first son. In some cultures, it is unlucky for pregnant women to view the solar eclipse, so I wonder if she was slightly superstitious and stayed inside, or if she was curious and glanced at it. My other great-grandparents, Glenn and Mildred (Lawrence) Kaiser, and Erwin and Dorothy (Mueller) Wischmeyer were not yet married, and were living with their families in DeKalb and Chicago, respectively. Glenn Kaiser would have missed the eclipse entirely because he was serving in the military in France. Perhaps he heard about the eclipse from family members who wrote to him while he was away.

7 August 1869:

My great-great grandmother Jennie Holbrook was nine years old and lived with four siblings and her parents on a farm near a small town named Manlius, Bureau County, Illinois. They were just a tad too far north to see a complete eclipse, but at over 90% coverage of the sun, the sky would have still been noticeably dark. On this particular Saturday, I’d imagine that they also paused their daily routine to admire the nearly full eclipse. They may have read about the eclipse in the Ottawa Free Trader or another local newspaper. This eclipse was the first eclipse in the United States to have a clear photograph taken of it. The center of the eclipse passed right through Springfield, IL as they were building the Capital. This was the last time that Illinoisans experienced a total eclipse.

Another article from the Ottawa Free Trader on the day of the eclipse, 7 August 1869. Image Source:
Scientists had predicted the solar eclipse on August 7, 1869, which actually began on August 8 in Asia! This witty newspaper clipping about the upcoming eclipse comes from the Ottawa Free Trader, 17 July 1869, page 5. Image Source:

Later today, I will try to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view a total solar eclipse from my home. I wonder, will the weather cooperate? Will it be cloudy, like the eclipses my relatives experienced in 1925 and 1970? Or will I get lucky, like George and Pauline Weil, and be able to view the total eclipse under clear skies? And will it be memorable, so that I can someday tell my children about it? Time will soon tell!

Did any of your relatives experience any cool eclipses in the past?

Snapshot of 1929 DeKalb County

My map starts with a view of the whole county.

At the recent ALA library conference, I learned the basics of GIS from a Map and Geospatial information Librarian from the University of Minnesota. I was so excited to try it out for myself, using some historic maps related to my family’s history! I tested it out by making this composite map of DeKalb County. All of the maps that I used to create this map were from the 1929 Atlas and plat book of De Kalb County, Illinois : compiled from surveys and the public records of De Kalb County, Illinois, digitized by the Library of Congress. (See the whole atlas here!)

I started with the county map, matching up points on the county map with points on a present-day digital map using MapWarper. Then, I did the same thing for all the townships and main towns and villages in the county. I linked them together using ArcGIS. The result is a complete snapshot of 1929 DeKalb County! The finished map is best viewed in the web app here. Zoom out to see the whole county, and zoom in a little to see the individual townships and see the property owners in the country. Zoom in even further into a town, and see all of the streets and city lots! You can look at the different layers (or parts) of the map, and adjust the transparency of each layer to view the present-day map underneath it.

If you zoom in a little, you can view the township maps side by side.


Zoom all the way into a town to see the details in each town!


By putting these two township maps next to each other, I can see just how close Gust Medine lived to his brother Peter!

This map is cool, but why is a map like this useful? For me, it is a powerful tool for putting my ancestors within the context of their neighbors and their communities. For example, several of my ancestors lived on the edge of their townships, such as Gustaf Medine in northeast Mayfield township, and Charles Drake on the west side of Genoa township. This map quickly allows me to view their communities and their neighbors. A quick glance can tell me that although they lived in different townships, Gustaf lived very close to his brother Peter (see the image on the right). By using the slider to make the historic map more transparent, I can also compare it to present-day roads and landmarks, and quickly determine how the property has changed over the years. Combining historic maps with GIS technology can definitely produce some wonderful local history resources! Please explore my 1929 DeKalb County map and let me know what you think!

Calling all Medine cousins!


Medine family photo at the Pleasant Hill farm
The only known photograph of the Gustaf Medine family, taken about 1911 at Gustaf’s Pleasant Hill farm in Mayfield, IL. Photo Source: Drake family photos

I’m looking to reconnect with any relatives of the Medine family from DeKalb County, Illinois!

This semester, I took an online Genealogy course at University of Illinois with genealogist Nicole W. Miller. I feel like I learned so much about developing trends in genealogy, and I developed better practices for researching and sourcing my own family history. One of my accomplishments was writing a formal compiled genealogy for the Medine family. I realized that there are still some close Medine cousins that I know very little about! I would love to reconnect and share family stories with their descendants. If you are descended from any of the relatives listed below, please connect with me by commenting on this post! I know the basic information for each of these people, but I’d love to add more to their biographies! I will definitely share the final genealogy paper with you!

  • Ralph/Harry Shaffer, born about 1913, Illinois. Son of Roy and Julia (Medine) Shaffer. He likely grew up in DeKalb, Illinois, and I believe that he lived in Chicago in 1943. No further information.
  • Leona G. Bowen, born 16 September 1913 in Mayfield, DeKalb County, Illinois and died 4 February 1975 in Sycamore. Daughter of Jesse Scott and Augusta (Medine) Bowen. She married Melvin Ernest Voltz on 25 November 1933 in Elgin, Kane County, Illinois. He was born 27 October 1909 in Illinois and died on 29 October 1983 in Wisconsin.
  • Donald M. Bowen, born 18 November 1916, Sycamore; died 9 December 1989 DeKalb County, Illinois. Son ofJesse Scott and Augusta (Medine) Bowen. He married (1) Edna Eddy on 15 June 1946 and (2) Teresa Mary deRin on 2 September 1949 in Geneva, Kane County, Illinois. Teresa was born 17 January 1921 in DeKalb, the daughter of Anthony and Sylvia deRin, and she died 26 May 1988.
  • Helen M. Bowen, born 11 July 1920, Mayfield; died 27 July 1949, Elgin, Kane County, Illinois. Daughter of Jesse Scott and Augusta (Medine) Bowen. She married Charles Joseph Leonard on 25 April 1940 in Dubuque, Iowa. He was born 25 April 1912 in Illinois to James and Mary Leonard, and died 26 December 1993 in Van Nuys, California.
  • James Leonard Medine, born 30 June 1924, Genoa, Illinois; died 11 December 1944 in France. Son of Fred and Lillian Kleona (Leonard) Medine. He served in the military in WWII and was killed in action. 

I will also be writing a compiled genealogy for Gustaf Medine’s siblings who also settled in DeKalb County, Illinois. They are all the children of Andreas Danielsson and Lena Stina Svensdottr, born in Smoland, Sweden, and emigrated here in the 1880’s. Their original last name was Andreasson, and they all changed it to Medine when they arrived in Illinois. Please contact me if you have any additional information about the following individuals! Thank you!

  • Peter Sven Medine was born 9 June 1858 in Mistelås, Kronoberg County, Sweden, and died 12 January 1930 in Sycamore, Illinois. He married Mathilda Johnson (1861-1925) in DeKalb County, Illinois on 9 December 1887. They had four children, all born in DeKalb County: Harry William Medine (1888-1964), Arthur Albert Medine (1890-1972), Carl Edward Medine (1894-1987) and Ernest Glenn Medine (1900-1991).
  • Mary/Maria Medine was born 1 May 1856 in Mistelås, Kronoberg County, Sweden, and died 27 Mar 1940 in Sycamore, Illinois. She had one daughter who was born in Sweden, Amanda Helena Medine (1882-1953), who married Alfred A. Reed and Edward Castenson. In 1890, Mary married Andrew Turkelson (1834-1910) in Illinois, and they had three sons: John William Turkelson (1892-1953), Rienhold Turkelson (1895-1910) and Carl Victor Turkelson (1897-1970).
  • Helen Medine was born 1 March 1863 in Mistelås, Kronoberg County, Sweden, and died 15 November 1948 in Maywood, Cook County, Illinois. In 1886, she married Andrew Elmberg (1851-1924). They had one daughter, Maud Victoria Elmberg (1888-1967). Helen later married Herman H. Phillips (1867-1943).
  • Christine Medine was born 5 March 1846 in Mistelås, Kronoberg County, Sweden and died sometime after 1907. She arrived with her father Andreas in Illinois from Sweden in 1899. When Andreas passed away in 1907, she is named as “Mrs. Christine Anderson of Mayfield.” I’m not sure who she married (if she did marry), or when she died, or if she went back to Sweden after 1907. She had a son, born in 1873 in Sweden, named Anders Göran.